Senator Joe Gartlan
Last Tuesday (July 22), I attended memorial services for Senator Joe Gartlan, a colleague, mentor and friend in the Virginia General Assembly.
Joe was elected to the Senate in the same year I was elected to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors from Providence District. He was junior to powerful Northern Virginia leaders Sen. Abe Brault and Omer Hirst, who retired several years before Joe.
While Joe never served in local government, he was always sympathetic and responsive to local needs, and helpful to local elected officials.
Because of his keen intellect and understanding of the legislative process, Joe rose quickly to leadership positions in the Senate. At different times, he was chair of three committees in the Senate. He was also a wonderful raconteur. His hilarious Irish stories were legend in Richmond.
His name was on many important pieces of legislation, particularly laws to address pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, reduce conflicts of interest and improve services for the poor, the elderly and the mentally ill.
When I was elected to the House in 1991, Joe was chair of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. One of my initiatives was a measure creating a joint study committee to recommend ways to encourage greater voter participation in Virginia elections. As initiator of the study, I became chair of the bi-partisan study committee. Joe was vice-chair. He was very supportive and helpful to this newcomer.
The committee recommended passage of Virginia “motor voter” legislation to supplement the Federal legislation of the same name. I introduced the legislation in the House, and Joe introduced the Senate version. The legislation passed in 1995 on a partisan vote in the House. In the Senate, passage was easier.
Governor George Allen vetoed the legislation. The veto was overturned by a Federal District Court as a violation of the Federal Voting Rights Act. In 1996, Joe and I introduced the legislation again. With the aid of Assistant Attorney General Claude Allen, the bill passed easily.
Joe was also widely known for the process of judicial nomination he initiated in Northern Virginia. Called the “Gartlan” or the “Fairfax” process, it ensured bi-partisan participation in the local nomination process. It is widely recognized and praised in the Commonwealth, and has resulted in excellent appointment to state courts.
Joe retired in 1999 and was replaced by the person he strongly supported, and who carries on his tradition and courage, Senator Toddy Puller, who was re-elected last year. As suggested by former Governor Jerry Baliles in his beautiful and emotional eulogy, few legislators have inspired as much respect, admiration or affection among his colleagues as Joe Gartlan.